When you become a Christian and trust Christ to forgive all your sins it is a great relief from guilt, but what happens later when you fail and fall back into sin? How do you get rid of the guilt after you have become a Christian?
When Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross He paid the penalty and secured forgiveness for all our sins: past, present and future (See blog post Forgiveness Is Forever.); but that is not the end of the story. There is a daily aspect of forgiveness, which, if not understood or practiced, can rob you of spiritual power, peace of mind, and enjoyment of intimate fellowship with God.
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I John 1:5 (NASV)
The Wrong Idea about Sin
In the first Christian century there was a teaching circulating among the Jews called gnosticism. It rose to prominence in the Graeco-Roman world in the second and third centuries. Its basic premise was that matter is evil and only spiritual, immaterial realities are good. The Gnostics were divided into two schools of thought concerning the human body: the ascetics and the antinomians.
The ascetics taught that since the body is evil, the way to conquer sin is to subjugate and punish the body. They denied themselves normal creature comforts, foregoing adequate food, shelter and clothing. Some even tortured themselves by whipping and injuring their bodies. By this ascetic lifestyle they expected to eliminate sin in their lives.
The antinomians took the opposite approach. They agreed that the body is inherently sinful, but believed it is impossible to subjugate and punish it enough to cleanse it of sin. Their solution to the sin problem was to ignore the body and focus on keeping the spirit pure. As long as their spirits were focused on philosophy and ever higher levels of knowledge and insight, they imagined they would be free of sin, no matter what they were doing in their bodies. They considered the body irrelevant to their spiritual condition.
Whatever Happened to Sin?
Unfortunately, both forms of gnosticism have influenced the Christian church; but other ideas in our culture have even suggested that sin is an outmoded concept.
- Evolutionists say “What men call sin is nothing more than the residue of their animal ancestry and the struggle for survival of the fittest.”
- Behaviorists say, “There is no such thing as responsibility since a man becomes just what his environment makes him.”
- Psychoanalysts say, “Guilt is unhealthy.”
- Sociologists say, “Collectively we all bear the blame for the ills of society, so if everyone is to blame in general, then no one is to blame in particular.”
- Relativists say, “Since there are no absolute values, then there can be no right or wrong and no such thing as sin.”
The Bible says this kind of thinking is self deception and an accusation that makes God out to be a liar. God’s Word clearly teaches that man has been guilty of sin ever since Adam and Eve committed the first sin in the Garden of Eden. Our first ancestors passed their sin nature to every succeeding generation. That is why Paul wrote in Romans 3:9:”…for we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin…” and in verse 23, “…for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Bad News and Good News
Even after we become Christians we still have a sin nature and repeatedly sin against God in spite of our best intentions. If we deny our sins or fail to acknowledge them we place ourselves outside of the truth and plunge ourselves into spiritual darkness. God is light and truth. If we are to have continuous fellowship with Him, we must live in the light of His truth. God says we are sinners, and our sins prevent us from enjoying fellowship with Him. That’s the bad news.
The good news is there is a remedy for our sins that is always readily available: confession. God wants us to confess our sins. Let’s think about what that means. To confess basically means to say the same thing about something. For example, God’s word says gossiping is a sin. We are tempted to say, “Oh, I wasn’t gossiping. I was just sharing a prayer request.” Let’s be honest. If we share information that damages another person’s reputation, that’s gossip. Whenever we do something like that and feel convicted for it, we should pray, “Heavenly Father, I am guilty of gossiping because I told so and so about such and such. Please forgive me and help me to control my tongue.”
Two More Requirements for True Confession
Christian confession is more than just admitting that you did something wrong. Confession requires contrition, godly sorrow for sin. There was much publicity after Lance Armstrong appeared twice on Oprah Winfrey’s show to confess that he was guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs, which enabled him to win seven victories in the Tour de France cycle races. Government officials had 1,000 pages of incriminating evidence against him. Most of his close friends and fellow cyclists who knew him said he was guilty. After denying the charges for years and viciously attacking his accusers he finally admitted that he was guilty.
Some of his critics wondered if he would ever apologize or try to make reparations to the people whose careers and reputations he ruined and the companies who lost millions of dollars because of his deception. Was he truly contrite and remorseful about the ways he injured people, or did he just admit what everyone already knew? True confession requires feeling sorry for the harm done, seeking reconciliation with the people who were hurt, and making reparations for the damage that was done.
Confession also requires turning away from sin. God already knows about all of our sins before we confess them. When we confess our sins we see them from God’s perspective. We realize that even a relatively small sin is an act of rebellion and an affront to our heavenly Father, Who loved us, and gave His Son to die for our sins. We see that sin harms us and other people, and interferes with our close fellowship with God. We loathe our sins and turn from them, asking God to give us grace to avoid them.
Two Results of Confession
John assures us that two things happen when we confess our sins to God. One is that we are forgiven. God forgives us because He is faithful. He promised to forgive our sins when we trusted Christ as our Savior. We don’t lose our salvation when we sin, but we lose the joy of it. When David repented of his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah, he said, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” (Psalm 51:12 NASV) When we confess our sins to God He assures us that they have been forgiven because Christ died for them of the cross. That is why God is also just (righteous) to forgive us. Our guilt was placed on Jesus and we are free of it. Octavius Winslow wrote:
Learn to take the guilt as it comes, and the corruption as it rises, directly and simply to Jesus. Suffer not the guilt of sin to remain long upon the conscience. The moment there is the slightest consciousness of a wound received, take it to the blood of Christ. The moment a mist dims the eye of faith, so that you cannot see clearly the smile of your Father’s countenance, take it that instant to the blood of atonement. Let there be no distance between God and your soul. Sin separates. But sin immediately confessed, mourned over, and forsaken, brings God and the soul together in sweet, close, and holy fellowship.
The Christian faith doesn’t deny guilt. It removes it. So, the first thing that happens when we confess is assurance of forgiveness in Christ.
The second thing that happens is cleansing from the stain of unrighteousness. Righteousness is doing what is right in your relationships with God and your fellow man so that you are in good standing with God. Unrighteousness is doing wrong in your relationship with God and your fellow man, so that you are not in a good standing with God. When Dr. Walter Wilson visited a Christian family the parents asked their children to quote Bible verses for him. Their little daughter tried to quote John 3:16 as follows:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have internal life.”
Her misquote actually made a valid statement. If you walk in the light of Christ, actively confessing your sins, His blood will cleanse you from the inside out.
Maintaining spiritual power, peace of mind, and enjoyment of intimate fellowship with God requires daily confession of sin and the forgiveness and cleansing that results. When we confess our sins to God daily we can say with the poet, Ackley:
The vain regrets of yesterday Have vanished through God’s pardoning grace; The guilty fear has passed away, And joy has come to take its place.
J. Ray Smith, President, Fair Havens Publications
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